Mary Sue sat down with Sherwood Smith to hear about her life, writing, and muse. As it turns out, she has more in common with some of her characters than you’d think, and in some cases more than she’d like! Fighting off armed attackers abroad–now that’s inspiration!
I understand you used to be a teacher. Have you found any similarities between teaching and writing? Is there a reason that teaching called to you as a writer?
Sherwood Smith: What I learned from writing was making it fun. Because I knew from childhood that if I was not enjoying what I was writing, the reader was not going to enjoy it. It didn’t guarantee that the reader was going to like it if I liked it, but I had a better chance. What the teaching taught me was that there are all kinds of different ways of learning. And I had to figure out how to present the material to that child—and because of that I became a better teacher, and then again I brought that back to writing.
Is there one place or experience that you feel has most informed your writing, more than anything else that you’ve done?
SS: Yes. That would be going to Europe, as a student abroad when I was about twenty. Austria was a culture shock for me, from Los Angeles! I was not prepared for that. I had periods of feeling very lonely, and cold—I didn’t own a coat. I’d never had a coat. Who needs a coat in Los Angeles? I thought a sweater was gonna be enough. And walking ten, twelve, fifteen miles a day on cobblestones—my shoes started to fall apart. And I was, you know, on the strictest possible budget, so I was eating once a day, which kind of affects you too.
I said, “Ok. Here I am. This is what I always wanted.”
Even when I got crap from anti-Americans, you know, you run into that, and at one point I had to defend my own life with my switchblade. Oh, that was scary! But actually, that’s when I started writing Crown Duel.
I felt like Mel. Stupid, ignorant, completely clueless, out of my depth, determined to make it anyway, even though I knew that everything I was doing was wrong, or two steps behind. But by gum I was gonna do it anyway!
MS: Oh! That makes a lot of sense. *laughing*
So if you could turn one of those books into a movie, would you want to do it?
SS: Sure! I’ve written a pilot for Crown Duel.
MS: Really? You’re making me so happy right now!
SS: Well, my agent’s had it for months and I suspect he’s going “meh.”
MS: Oh. *quietly sobs into a pillow*
SS: Well, what can you do? I am not George R. R. Martin.
SS: Several of [my books] would do well in film. I know how to write screenplays, because I’m a visual writer, and I did work in the film industry. I adapted Coronets and Steel once – that just makes a kickass screenplay! Rachel Manija Brown and I actually wrote the Change series, and first it was a screenplay. Then when we turned it into a book, the story altered so much that we’re revamping it. But again, somebody would have to have interest and we know that it’s not, you know, a big name.
Say Crown Duel becomes a miniseries, or a movie, would you have any actors in mind for Meliara or Vidanric?
SS: For Meliara, the face, and the expressions, would be Tuesday Weld back in the late 60s and early 70s. She has this big, broad forehead, and sort of wistful, expressive face and of course the hair…
I think as far as looks are concerned, the actor who looks the most like Vidanric is Orlando Bloom in the Lord of the Rings—without the ears.
If you could be any one of your characters, who would you want to be?
SS: I would want to be one of the ones who had a long, happy life!
Do you have a favorite comfort read that you pick up when you’re having a bad day?
SS: Pride and Prejudice.
MS: …kind of guessed that one. Why do you like Pride and Prejudice so much, though? I tried reading it, and I have to admit, I couldn’t get through it.
SS: Well, I know the period really well, so I can see the humor. And the insight, the sharp insight into human nature, and the deliciously ironic turns of phrase.
And I love the fact that she really invented the modern novel. I wonder how aware she was of doing that.
And the fact that the women’s point of view matters. What the women think and choose matters for the first time in history, in literature—English literature; and it was profoundly affective. And then there were just different subtleties. Every time I reread I notice something different.
So what was your favorite book as a kid?
SS: That would be the Sherwood Ring. You know, as a little kid, I looked for anything that had “Sherwood” in it. Anything! I was floored when I came across The Sherwood Ring, because it was funny, and it had ghosts in it, the language was period and yet accessible, so that was kind of my favorite book for several years there. So, the Sherwood Ring for two or three years until I read Lord of the Rings when I was fourteen.
SS: [A friend and I] were sitting up in her attic—we used to go up in her attic, which was frightful hot but you know we were away from all the adults—and write a book. And I was writing Poor World while she was reading Lord of the Rings, and she kept going, “*gasp* Sherwood, he’s doing what we’re doing! It’s a grownup who has another world! And I think he believes in it the way we do!” And I said “nah. No way.” I was really jealous. I kind of peeked over and looked at it upside-down, and I saw the word that I thought was “eleven” and went, “That jerk! He stole that from me!” Of course, the word was “elven,” not “eleven.” So anyway, she gets to the end of it a few days later, and I go over to visit her the next weekend and she says, “You are going to read this book. I guarantee you’re gonna love this.” So I took them home, and I read all day, all night that weekend. I just didn’t stop reading. And she was right. Just blew me out of the water. They were a favorite for years and years and years. That’s right up there with Pride and Prejudice.
Do you have an advice for a young, or slight less young, person today who wants to become an author?
SS: Absolutely: read. Read outside your favorite genre. Read everything you can. And second, just keep doing it.
SS: Keep at it, and enjoy what you’re doing. And learn how to rewrite. It took me decades to learn how to rewrite, and consequently, it took me a long time to get published, and then a long time to see how bad the stuff was that I was publishing.
So, I know you work with Book View Café; how is that different than working with other publishers?
SS: Well you don’t have an editor in charge. You’re working with other writers and you’re in the driver’s seat. They can beta-read, but they can’t tell you what to do. The other good thing is they come out in a more timely fashion, they keep the price-points low, because we’re doing all the labor for free.
Rifter’s Covenant, the fourth volume of the Exordium series, will be re-released later this month. Is there anything you’re super excited to share about the new edition?
SS: I’ve learned so much about writing that we’ve rewritten the Exordium series heavily. And it’s such a relief to be able to do that. It just feels like a much better set of books now. And it’s been an interesting process too, because for the most part, our future culture was actually pretty well predicted, but there were certain aspects that were very dated, and interesting to come across.
MS: Like what?
SS: Well, Dave Trowbridge really understood the physics of warfare and faster-than-light travel, which is why the theory was a cult favorite of, um, a group of people in Washington DC who work in buildings that have no names on them.
SS: And he also invented the smartphone [in the series]—however, that said, although [all the characters] had them, they weren’t using them! They were going to wall-computers to find out information. It was like they forgot they had them! Because that was the culture we grew up in. So in rewriting [the books], we had to have a security blackout in effect where people couldn’t use [smartphones], so that the story wouldn’t get derailed completely.
SS: When the books first came out, our [Exordium] culture was polysexual; there was no stigma about homosexuality or polyamory, really. And we caught a lot of flack from people about how terrible that was. And now it’s just, it’s more every day.
Are you working on any other new books at the moment?
SS: Well, I just last week came out with Lhind The Spy, which is the sequel to Lhind the Thief. That’s new. And I have several different Sartorias-deles ones going on, including Firejive. Oh, and I’ve been coming out with some Jane Austen rewrites; that’s just fun. That’s kind of recreational writing for me—I really enjoy it.
You can find Sherwood Smith on Goodreads, where she reviews books and answers fan questions.
Sherwood Smith’s suggested reading list:
- Andrea K. Höst’s Touchstone Trilogy (YA), And All The Stars (YA), and Medair
- Literally any book by Lindsay Buroker. They’re kitchen sink fantasy/science fiction/steampunk. (I have no idea what that means, but I’ll be finding out real soon.)
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